Dazzling Blue #53: The Birth of Tow Surfing

Dazzling Blue #53: The Birth of Tow Surfing


It was 1987 and Pipeline was 10-12 feet, breaking way out on the third reef, and there were no takers, it was a day to mindsurf.


     Big blue wall looms, jet-skier speeds into it early, behind him, what is that? A surfer? Yes! As the wave stands up the surfer lets go of the tow rope and S-turns down the face.

     I witnessed this in person, it was stunning, a glimpse into the future. The jet-skier was Herbie Fletcher; the surfer was Martin Potter, and they were making history, these were the seeds of what would come to be known as tow surfing.

     In fact tow surfing was percolating in the minds of imaginative surfers well before this. In a 1963 issue of Surf Guide magazine, Californian Mike Doyle wrote: “The surfer might be towed into the wave by a boat much like a water-skier.” He was pondering ways we might more effectively get down the face of a big wave. In 1974, Hawaii’s Jim Neece experimented with “speedboat assistance” as a way to ride the huge surf of Kaena Point. But tow-in surfing really came to the fore in late 1992, when Hawaiians Buzzy Kerbox, Laird Hamilton, and Darrick Doerner used an inflatable Zodiac boat to whip into 15-foot waves at Backyards on the North Shore. It worked. They would soon move on to using PWCs—and towing into Jaws and Phantoms and Teahupo’o and all the rest.